As readers of this blog know, Sudan’s President Omar al Bashir was indicted for war crimes and crimes against humanity by the International Criminal Court on March 4th. Right after that, the Government of Sudan – at Bashir’s behest – expelled 13 non-governmental aid organizations (NGOs) from Darfur, accusing them of cooperating with the ICC investigation. These groups provide approximately 40-50 percent of the aid in Darfur. Without them, millions of people are at risk of starvation and other preventable deaths.
Many of us are wondering what we can do to help address this latest crisis in Sudan, when President Bashir seems to ignore international pressure and simple appeals to respect life. As Co-Chair of the Sudan Caucus in the House of Representatives, I worked with Rep. Michael McCaul of Texas to circulate three letters to leaders to whom Bashir might listen. We hope in this way Members of Congress could act to restore humanitarian aid in Darfur. The letters are being sent today to President Hu Jintao of China, Secretary-General Amre Moussa of the Arab League of State, and Chairman Muammar Qadhafi of the African Union, asking that they urge Bashir to allow the humanitarian NGOs back into Darfur. China, the Arab League, and the African Union all have friendly relations with Sudan, but it’s also in their best interest to ensure that the humanitarian crisis in Darfur doesn’t spiral out of control. A calmer, more peaceful Sudan will allow them to continue cementing business relationships and exercise political clout, and we are hoping to appeal to their pragmatism as much as anything else.
Crises in Sudan (for example, the North-South civil war that was ended by 2005’s Comprehensive Peace Agreement or CPA and the genocide in Darfur) typically represent an area where Members of Congress can cooperate across party lines to further the interests of peace and justice. Genocide is not a partisan issue. People forced to live in IDP camps don’t care whether the appropriations bill that provides humanitarian aid was authored by a Democrat or a Republican. It is in this spirit that we’ve seen a number of dedicated Members from both parties consistently engage on these issues. Bi-partisan efforts have aimed to make sure that the United States is applying appropriate sanctions to the regime in Khartoum while also doing everything we can to help the IDPs and the peacekeepers charged with keeping them safe.
Concerned citizens can play an active role as well. Many of my colleagues heard from their constituents that they should sign these letters to China, the Arab League, and the African Union. Those voices matter.
The author is a Member of Congress from Massachusetts and co-chairs the Sudan Caucus in the U.S. House of Representatives. This post is the first in a five-part series. Tune in next Wednesday to hear more from Congressman Capuano on Sudan.